By Lottie L. Joiner
On March 16, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock, Ga., killed eight people, including six Asian women, at Atlanta-area spas. Long was arrested about 150 miles south of Atlanta after his parents reported him to authorities. The next day, Long, who was headed to Florida to commit more crimes, was taken to the Cherokee County Adult Detention Center where he was interviewed by the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, the Atlanta police, and the FBI. Long was charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault with no bond.
During a press conference after Long’s arrest, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker said Long, “was pretty much fed up and had been, kind of, at the end of his rope. And yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”
In 2015, 21-year-old Dylann Roof murdered nine Black people during Bible study at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. Roof, a white supremacist, prayed with the church members in the basement of the historically Black church before killing them. He shouted hate-filled speech and told them he had to kill them because they were Black.
When police caught up with Roof in Shelby, N.C., nearly 250 miles from Mother Emanuel, he was armed with a .45-caliber Glock pistol, a semiautomatic handgun. While in police custody, he was given something to eat, a hamburger bought from Burger King. Roof was also given the privilege of an FBI interview and a trial, where he was found guilty of 33 counts of federal hate crimes and the attempted murder of three church members who survived the attack.
According to NPR, Roof told FBI agents that he felt he “had to” murder the Black church members at Mother Emanuel because “no one else was brave enough” and that “white people already are the second-class citizens.”
When police pulled over Roof, he was not given the same treatment as African Americans who encountered police officers. They didn’t shoot him in the back like police did Laquan McDonald in Chicago or Stephon Clark in Sacramento, Calif., or Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C. And when Sandra Bland was locked in a Waller County, Texas, jail cell, she was not given the benefit of a hamburger.
In Georgia, when police officers arrested Robert Long at a location about three hours south of Atlanta, he had a 9 mm handgun in his possession. While in custody, the officers did not injure Long like police did Freddie Gray in Baltimore. The officers did not put Long in a choke hold like police did Eric Garner in New York. And police officers did not kneel on Long’s neck for more than nine minutes like Derek Chauvin did to George Floyd in Minneapolis.
When 20-year-old Daunte Wright was pulled over in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on April 11, just minutes away from the George Floyd murder trial, he was accused of having expired license plates and dangling air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror. Wright had not killed nine Black people like Roof did in South Carolina nor did he kill eight people, including six Asian women, like Long did in Georgia. But Wright ended up dead after a traffic stop for expired license plates and dangling air fresheners. He was not given the benefit of having a bad day.
More than a week later, Ma’Khia Bryant died after an encounter with police in Columbus, Ohio. Officers were called to a home during a dispute on April 20. Body camera video shows Bryant lunging toward someone with a knife and the police officer firing shots at her. Bryant’s still body lay on the ground. Couldn’t the officer have tackled the young 16-year-old Black girl to the ground instead of shooting her four times?
Recently, The View’s Sunny Hostin noted the disparity in how whites are treated during encounters with police compared to how African Americans are treated.
“It goes from zero to execution very, very quickly when there is a Black or brown person involved,” Hostin said.
Hostin mentioned Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old white boy who shot and killed two Black Lives Matters protesters during a demonstration on behalf of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake was shot in the back seven times by police. Rittenhouse’s mother had driven the teen, who was armed with an AR-15 style rifle, across state lines from Illinois to attack the protesters.
“He was carrying an assault weapon,” Hostin pointed out. “The video shows police sharing water with him, and [they] thanked him for his presence. Also, after the shooting, he was able to leave the scene.”
Dylann Roof was armed. Robert Long was armed. Kyle Rittenhouse was armed. Yet, they were taken into custody without incident. Unarmed African Americans aren’t given the same courtesy.
Northwestern law professor Sheila Bedi noted for The Crisis that in the 1989 Supreme Court case Graham v. Connor, “the court developed the use of force standard that has repeatedly been cited as a get-out-of-jail-free card for officers who kill.” The court held that:
“ The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight … police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments — in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving — about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”
So, why do police see an unarmed Black person as more dangerous than an armed white person who has just killed?
“One of the privileges of whiteness is that the actions of white people are not ascribed to the group,” Bedi explained in an email exchange. “White people who engage in hate crimes are mentally ill, bullied, they “had a bad day.”
“But Black and brown people don’t have that privilege. When one of us engages in an act of violence, it reflects on all of us. And that has allowed the narrative of dangerous gangs, youth who are super predators, etc., to consume public consciousness.
“I also think that policing is at its core about protecting whiteness and prosecuting/containing Blackness,” Bedi continued. “That’s true even when white people are responsible for horrific violence.”
As a result of this harsh reality and the Supreme Court’s stance on policing, though Derek Chauvin was convicted, Bedi noted in her piece, there will inevitably be another George Floyd.
Originally published at https://www.thecrisismagazine.com on April 28, 2021.